Valeria Napoleone started collecting in 1997 when she was living in New York and a burgeoning Brooklyn-scene was beginning to take root. Originally from Lombardi, Italy, she moved to do a master’s at the city’s Fashion Institute of Technology, befriending artists and gallerists either side of Manhattan Bridge. Valeria met an unknown artist called Carroll Shedford from Pierogi 2000 gallery, which was based in Williamsburg at the time, but has since relocated to the Lower East Side. Narcissus was a black and white work depicting soapsuds with a portrait of women inside each of the bubbles. Aside from the domestic element of the work, Valeria was stuck by the presence of women, both in the work and in an art world that wasn’t representing them.
Valeria came of age as a collector amidst the work of the Guerrilla Girls, Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman, Liza Lou and Carolee Schneemann. “What stuck me by being connected to the art world was feeling part of the zeitgeist of thought and ideas. I loved being part of the community,” Valeria says. “But the world that so many women inhabited was a totally different one – it was domestic, behind walls and closed doors.” From then on Valeria decided that supporting women was integral to her vision as a collector.
“Being a collector is about passion, it’s a lifelong commitment,” Valeria continues. “I have spent the last 20 years collecting art with no other strategy than to support female artists who were underrepresented by galleries. I felt a connection to marginalised women but I also felt that these women took new directions in their work, which resonated with me.” She moved into her high ceilinged West London flat in 1998 where she still lives today, surrounded by works by women she has amassed over the past 20 years.
Sitting on a sofa in her living room next to a Julie Verhoeven frilly ying-yang bath mat with two cushioned boobs sewn on, Valeria spoke to Amuse about how to start an art collection and the works that have shaped her own.
On starting your own art collection
“To anyone starting a collection today I would say take your time. It’s harder today because the market is inflated, but don’t ever buy anything unless it moves you. Art is about people, and the connections and collaborations that go on between people. Being a collector is about a mutual give and take of support. To collect art, it’s about mutual loyalty to galleries and curators. I don’t work with an art advisor – everything I know and own is based off these connections I’ve made with people.”
On discovering your own taste
“I have always been an adventurous person. And this has shaped my collection. I’m not minimalist or shy of humour in art. My Italian roots have drawn me to rich textures and colour. To me, art is about concepts and ideas and I like works that balance an object with a strong concept. Though I’ve never collected a specific medium—my collection has everything from video to clothing—I have always loved figurative painting.”
On True Blonde by Lisa Yuskavage
“This seductive painting was actually chosen by my husband Greg and it’s been here forever. My collection really began with this work. Lisa often works with images of pin-ups, but this was the first time she had immersed a girl in an ambient and sensual way. It’s a highly stylised masterpiece and every brushstroke feels like another detail of the girl’s body.”
On Saggy Titties by Nicole Eisenman
“This is my Mona Lisa. It’s an unusual work for the artist [who usually works in figurative painting] though this piece has just returned from a two-year travelling exhibition in the U.S. I first met Nicole in Zurich when she was installing a show in the mid-90s. I then came across her work through the Berlin-based curator, Barbara Weiss and bought afterwards. It’s made with fleshy ribbons of paint dripped over and over to create these overhanging breasts. In 2013 Nicole was awarded the Carnegie International Prize for sculpture, so I am very proud of her and of this work.”
On Julie Verhoeven’s soft scuptures
“Julie is known for her work as an illustrator and designer. I supported her solo show at the ICA last year, and took part in the new videos she presented. I particularly love her soft sculptures as they connect her manual ability with fabric, the formality of being a sculpture and her funny and irreverent way of depicting the female body.”
On the 100% Stupid mural
“Lily van der Stokker is totally non-commercial and until recently she has really struggled. Artists’ careers can be very turbulent and being a collector is about support as much as acquisition. Lily is a Dutch artist with a background in graffiti, yet her work is so soft and feminine. 100% Stupid was painted directly on to the wall and it’s the only work in a private collection. Her work is beautiful and sarcastic; it’s about the reality of growing old and stupidity. Some of her work is just about washing up the dishes, making sure the house is tidy or her friends.”
On bringing more art by female artists to the public
“I launched ValeriaNapoleoneXX. It is an umbrella platform for projects and initiatives working towards increasing the recognition and validation of art practices by female artists through collaborations and partnerships with institutions and individuals in the world of art. XXSculptureCenter, launched last year in New York, will fund the production of a major work by a woman artist at the SculptureCenter every 12-18 months. ValeriaNapoleoneXXContemporary